Khartoum, Sudan - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on Friday ordered the army to fight in South Kordofan until it has “cleaned” the border state of rebels, in a speech just eight days before the south secedes.

“I ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces to continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels,” Bashir told the faithful at a mosque in Khartoum during Friday prayers, in a speech broadcast on state television.

Heavy fighting has raged in the embattled northern border state since June 5 between government forces and fighters aligned to the SPLA, the military wing of the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the ruling party of the south.

Bashir was speaking just hours after returning from an official visit to China, and three days after a top government official signed a preliminary accord with the head of the northern branch of the SPLM in Addis Ababa that raised hopes of ceasefire in the ethnically divided state.

The violence erupted after Abdelaziz Hilu, South Kordofan's former deputy governor and number two in the northern branch of the SPLM, came close to winning the state's gubernatorial election in May, before he withdrew alleging fraud.

Bashir called Hilu a “criminal” responsible for the indiscriminate killing of civilians, and said he must face justice.

“Abdelaziz al-Hilu is a criminal and he will continue as a criminal until he faces justice. He has asked everyone who carries a weapon to kill civilians. He cannot return (from the rebellion) as a normal citizen,” the president said. - Sapa-AFP